Thursday, May 31, 2007

Noble Faith - A Response.

XGH just posted on faith ( I prefer belief) http://extremegh.blogspot.com/2007/05/is-faith-noble.html and I commented as follows: (some minor editing)

פֶּתִי, יַאֲמִין לְכָל-דָּבָר
The thoughtless believeth every word
(Mishlei 14:16)

עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה, מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple
(Tehilim 19:8)

The problem you have is with the "evidence". You have to clearly define what kind of evidence is required for each type of belief. Do not jump to a hasty response but think about it a little. How can one expect time dependent and physical evidence for a non-physical pre- time event like creation or actions (for that matter inaction) of such an Entity? If such evidence is unattainable and the possibility still exists, in fact there is about the same probability for it as against it, what is one to do? Go Dawkins way and say unless I have proof positive it is ridiculous or go the Jewish way and say it is something that requires serious investigation and what method do I follow in that journey?



Here is an excerpt of a letter written by Rambam to the wise men of Montpellier who asked him his opinion about astrology.

דעו רבותי, שאין ראוי לו לאדם להאמין אלא באחד משלשה דברים. הראשון דבר שתהיה עליו ראיה ברורה מדעתו של אדם כגון חכמת החשבון, וגימטריאות, ותקופות. והשני דבר שישיגנו האדם באחד מהחמש הרגשות, כגון שידע ויראה שזה שחור וזה אדום וכיוצא בזה בראית עינו. או שיטעום שזה מר וזה מתוק. או שימשש שזה חם וזה קר. או שישמע שזה קול צלול וזה קול הברה. או שיריח שזה ריח באוש וזה ריח ערב וכיוצא באלו. והשלישי דבר שיקבל אותו האדם מן הנביאים ע"ה ומן הצדיקים. וצריך האדם, שהוא בעל דעה, לחלק בדעתו גם במחשבתו כל הדברים שהוא מאמין בהם, ויאמר:

שזה האמנתי בו מפני הקבלה, וזה האמנתי בו מפני ההרגשה, וזה האמנתי בו מפני הדעה.

אבל מי שיאמין בדבר אחד שאינו משלושת המינים האלה, עליו נאמר "פתי יאמין לכל דבר" [משלי יד,טו].

Translation/Paraphrase as usual:

Know the following, my Teachers:

A person may only believe in three categories of knowledge.

The first types of belief are things that a person can prove empirically like mathematics, geometry and astronomy.

The second type of acceptable beliefs are those a person experiences with his five senses. With his eye he can verify the color of an observed object; he can taste a food if it is bitter or sweet; he can feel heat or cold; he can discern sounds whether they are clear or echoes; his olfactory sense tells him how things smell.

The third acceptable types of beliefs are those he receives from the prophets and the righteous.

A thinking person has to further identify each type of belief and categorize it properly by saying:

This I believe in because of Tradition,
This I believe in because I sense it.
This I believe in because I can prove it empirically (I know it).

However, someone who believes in things other than the above three is the person referred to in the following verse:

פֶּתִי, יַאֲמִין לְכָל-דָּבָרThe thoughtless believeth every word(Mishlei 14:16)

I understand the categorization Rambam requires of a thinking person, is done by a process of elimination. First one checks if the belief is empirically provable, if not, can it be something that we sense – in other words is it a physical reality or a concept. Only if it is the latter can one rely on tradition. Both skeptics and fundamentalists are unable to categorize things properly and this is the underlying cause of their misguided floundering when it comes to theological issues. The skeptics look for empirical proofs where none are possible or required. The fundamentalists believe that tradition supersedes reality. Both are equally in an alogical quandary.

10 comments:

  1. So you are claiming that in the Rambam's Weltanschauung empiricism trumps tradition? Exactly what the skeptics are claiming!

    The scientist says "what is the consensus view given all of the knowledge that we have gathered to date?" It is the fundies that require a standard of proof that is usually impossible.

    Explain the mabul without resorting to allegory. You simply can't take the story as literal, as the scientific evidence is just too overwhelming.

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  2. > Only if it is the latter can one rely on tradition.

    But which tradition? OJ? Islam? Mormon? Raelian? Oh I forgot, the Torah says you have to follow the Torah tradition.

    You are so FREAKIN circular you drive me crazy. But I still like you.

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  3. XGH, even traditions can be put to the test of reliability.

    Zach, though I do not want to speak for David - David did not say empiricism trumps tradition. He only said that it is important to categorize correctly. Depending on the source of knowledge (1,2 or 3) we have different standards of testability for truth.

    David, do you have the Rambam's teshuvas on disk? I've been wanting to make a post on the Rambam's teshuva concerning music.

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  4. Yehudah, No but I will look in spertus if you know the teshuvah number in blau edition. email me your email address.

    Zach, I have no idea what you are referring to. All I said is that one has to rationally figure out if something is empirically provable or not and categorize it accordingly and treat it according to its category.

    XGH, Re Islam et al sure you can choose to accept them if that is your preference. Just check out first what you are getting yourself into.

    Re circular, I am not trying to frustrate you nor do I consider what I said in this post circular.

    The difference between you and me is that you have problems accepting while I have no problem doing so if there is enough compelling evidence (notnecessarily direct even circumstatntial). I guess it has to do with age as I used to think like you! (note I did not say wisdom);-)

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  5. David,

    While we are on the topic, I would appreciate your thoughts on two posts I recently wrote on the topic of emunah: http://kankanchadash.blogspot.com/search/label/Emunah.

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  6. binyamin zeev5/31/2007 5:30 PM

    XGH- You have to understand Rambams philosophy in context. For him belief is not irrational acceptance of "notions", on contrary it is a product of intellectual labor. In first place understanding ontological difference between Creator (chronological and ontological- Cause as Absolute) and creation (chronological and ontological- effect as contingent). In understanding this dialectical tension you come to true beliefs.

    Mistake of Dawkins lays in fact that he does not accept ontological discourse as scientific. This comes from a fact that he (like most of natural scientists) does not have a philosophy as a part of his academic education, witch is in direct opposition to giants of science who were exceptionally familiar with philosophy. From this i conclude that he makes his distortion of discourse about God (which he mistakenly identifies with religion) witch is not a scientific question in strict sense. As D.Guttmann is saying: "The skeptics look for empirical proofs where none are possible or required." and i would add that they do this outside of primary context of the issue- philosophy (as its classically divided into: ontology/cosmology and gnoseology/epistemology; of our interest). If they would use named perspective they would have to explain all of issues in this light, which would move them from direct contact of their inquiry (they would firstly have to explain- what is -knowledge, what is -known, and who and why is the -knower, and then relate all of this to creation and to possible Creator); because they are not driven by phenomenon of Truth (as they like to explain they criticism of theism or religion) they do not engage in this inquiry.

    Further... Lack of understanding for necessity of ontological differentiation (Creator-creation) leads to complete blindness for limits of operative science which still (in Dawkins mind, for example) never went further from positivist period (which it did long time a go). If God could be proven DIRECTLY means that He could be reduced to His creation which is logical absurd (and would most definitely destroy possibility for freedom of will).

    Rambam puts it: "Let it be known that if the Creator did not exist then nothing else would, for nothing can exist independently of the Creator." ... Meaning that there has to be an absolutely actual necessary Being (not only possible as a concept) from which reality comes from. Otherwise you can`t explain existence of anything/creation because of ad infinitum argument (ontologically). In science they also look for (or think they have) a necessary laws through which a creation is explained, because if there is no necessity there is no explanation, because everything then is relative ad infinitum which then destroys primary notion of science- that creation/world is intelligible (witch brings us back to gnoseology and the question of knowledge, known and knower).

    And even if you accept latter statement (everything is relative ad infinitum ) as true, then you have to confront with the fact that your statement "creation is relative ad infinitum (chaotic/by chance)" is a statement of necessity. And where does this necessity come from? From contingent reality? Yeah right...

    Kol tov, ve shabat shalom!

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  7. Zach, I have no idea what you are referring to. All I said is that one has to rationally figure out if something is empirically provable or not and categorize it accordingly and treat it according to its category.

    Perhaps I understood you incorrectly then. Yehudah suggested that you were merely categorizing types of knowledge while it seemed to me that you were summarizing the Rambam's position as an epistemological hierarchy. You stated First one checks if the belief is empirically provable. So if that condition is satisfied, why should one move on to the second category of sensory experience (which is obviously a subjective experience unlike the empirical)? It also seemed like you were subsuming tradition within a conceptual subcategory of the (obviously inferior) sensory category.

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  8. Zach, you are correct in understanding that if something is empirically provable there is no need to go to the next category. It it happens to in addition agree with the other category (ies) so much the better. There is however not necessarily a hierarchical relationship. The hierarchy would be subjective. For example a person who accepted a belief on traditional grounds only and at some point had an experience that confirmed and strengthened that belief, may,I admit subjectively, feel that to be more "true" than empirically provable things. That is the meaning of Kryat Yam Suf and Sinai. If you read Hebrew you might want to read the eighth chapter in Milot Hahegayon. I have seen it online but I cannot recall where. If you email me (and are interested) I will look further.

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  9. David,

    Thank you for responding on my blog. However, I have three questions on your comments which I posted in the comments section there (http://kankanchadash.blogspot.com/search/label/Emunah). I would appreciate it if you would address them, since I would like to clearly understand your objection to Rabbi Fox's and Rabbi Zucker's ideas.

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  10. Rambam read carefully provides the framework for the theist who views evolution as an acceptable and useful theory based on the principles of reason and the fact evolution doesn't actually account for creatio ex nihilo - just what follows. That is until you take into account that he argues that belief in Hashem is a mitzvah, and one of the aseret hadiburot. This position is clearly directly related to his position that the study of science inevitably leads to the conclusion that Hashem created the world. However, in order to establish Judaism as the authentic revelation (as opposed to the other monotheistic faiths or faith since Christianity is avodah zarah), Rambam has to argue that Jews cannot believe in a generalized concept of God as suggested by the empirical evidence - nature's order and universals (or astronomy, mathematics and geometry) - they must believe in a single version of God. It's interesting how almost all of Rambam's thought has been rejected by more conservative elements, with the exception that in order to be an observant Jews, one must believe in Hashem (definition TBD!).

    Shabbat Shalom!

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